Juanito's Lab is a documentary film that explores the life and art of 22-year-old Juanito Castillo, a blind musician proficient in 14 instruments and considered one of the most talented and versatile young accordion players in South Texas.
The concept of this project started in January 2006 when my husband, music journalist Enrique Lopetegui (the project's co-director) met Juanito at a San Antonio event. Enrique felt Juanito was a gem and a voice that needed to be heard. As a filmmaker and media artist, I was also mesmerized by his musical talent but, most importantly, by his story:
Born premature, Juanito's retinas were burned in the incubator and subsequent family calamities added to his own blindness. Despite of this traumatic event, his parents sensed Juanito's artistic gift from a very early age, nurturing his multi-instrumental ability until Juanito got old enough to make his own creative decisions. Now a young man, Juanito is trapped between what he wants to be (original) and what society expects of him (to remain traditional to Tejano music). With the 2010 death of Juanito's mentor and dear friend, accordion legend Esteban Jordan, some expect Juanito (who played drums for Jordan for two years) to carry on Jordan's legacy. Instead, what Juanito wants is to record a CD of his own music.
Having played with Jordan and Max Baca (from Grammy-winning Los Texmaniacs), Juanito has grown and developed his own style at "the lab," Juanito's studio at a guesthouse behind his parent's home, and the place from which he plans his "escape." The footage we've captured shows how he eventually hooks up with bajo sexto hero Baca, who helps Juanito produce the album he always wanted to record. In typical Juanito's style, Juanito is satisfied but not thrilled with the resulting album, and is determined to record another one, this one on his own.
Currently , 85% of the total footage of Juanito's Lab has been shot and we're entering the post-production stage. The money we'll receive from your support and this fundraising effort will be allocated towards completion of the first rough cut. Expenses include: the purchase of additional hard drives and editing equipment, the hiring of an assistant editor, who will help with digitizing and organizing 60 hours of footage, and the hiring of a sound editor/engineer for the final audio mix.
Throughout these past five years I got to know Juanito's music, interests, ambitions, friends, girlfriends, and family; and we were witness to his amazing evolution from child prodigy to full-fledged musician, admired by fans and masters alike. Juanito's story deserves to be told and shared well beyond the limits of Texas.
Ever since Selena's death in 1995, Tejano music has steadily diminished its impact in the music industry due to - among other reasons - the systematic switch from Tejano radio to Mexican regional formats. Juanito is one of those who struggle to keep the Conjunto and Tejano flames alive, but at the same time he's his own man. "I love Tejano, but I also love Metallica, man," says the fully bilingual Juanito. "I don't want others telling me what to do. I want to have my own gig." While the Texas Monthly has already published a long feature on Juanito (titled The Apprentice, it alludes to Juanito's status as Esteban Jordan's musical heir), and the San Antonio Express-News (San Antonio's only daily newspaper) has covered his performances in the past, this documentary would be the ultimate, most complete and intimate critical portrayal of this young talent. It will also introduce unfamiliar audiences to the cultural importance of Conjunto and Tejano music.
Thank you for your support!